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Posts Tagged ‘rembrandt’

Photo: Remko de Waal/ANP/AFP via Getty Images.
Rembrandt’s restored ‘Night Watch’ at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.

A project to restore a Rembrandt called “Night Watch” has received a lot of attention recently, but at the risk of repeating what you already know, I’d just like to point out that trimming a work of art can seriously affect its greatness.

How many times have building renovations cut paintings to fit or squashed them into too small a space to be properly appreciated. I think, for example, of the many special WPA paintings in US post offices that have been significantly altered over the years. I understand competing needs, but it’s a loss.

What was lost in Rembrandt’s ‘Night Watch,’ the New York Times says, was a sense of movement. The original was “asymmetrical: The large arch that stands behind the crowd was in the middle, and the group’s leaders were on the right. Rembrandt painted them this way to create a sense of movement through the canvas.

“Once the new pieces were restored, so was the balance, [said Rijksmuseum’s director, Taco Dibbits.] ‘You really get the physical feeling that Banninck Cocq and his colleagues really walk towards you.’ “

The main focus of the recent news coverage, however, was on how experts used artificial intelligence (AI) — along with an early copy of the original painting — to reimagine Rembrandt’s intentions.

Nina Siegal reported at the Times, “Rembrandt’s “The Night Watch” has been a national icon in the Netherlands ever since it was painted in 1642, but even that didn’t protect it.

“In 1715, the monumental canvas was cut down on all four sides to fit onto a wall between two doors in Amsterdam’s Town Hall. The snipped pieces were lost. Since the 19th century, the trimmed painting has been housed in the Rijksmuseum, where it is displayed as the museum’s centerpiece, at the focal point of its Gallery of Honor.

“[Now] for the first time in more than three centuries, it will be possible for the public to see the painting ‘nearly as it was intended,’ said the museum’s director, Taco Dibbits. …

“Rather than hiring a painter to reconstruct the missing pieces, the museum’s senior scientist, Robert Erdmann, trained a computer to recreate them pixel by pixel in Rembrandt’s style. A project of this complexity was possible thanks to a relatively new technology known as convolutional neural networks, a class of artificial-intelligence algorithms designed to help computers make sense of images, Erdmann said.”

As amazing as AI is, the work would not have been possible if a less renowned painter hadn’t made an early copy of Rembrandt’s work.

“Indications already existed of how the original ‘Night Watch’ likely looked,” Siegal continues, “thanks to a copy made by Gerrit Lundens, another 17th-century Dutch painter. He made his replica within 12 years of the original, before it was trimmed.

“Lundens’s copy is less than one-fifth the size of Rembrandt’s monumental canvas, but it is thought to be mostly faithful to the original. It was useful as a model for the missing pieces, even if Lundens’s style was nowhere near as detailed as Rembrandt’s. Lundens’s composition is also much looser, with the figures spread out more haphazardly across the canvas, so it could not be used to make a one-to-one reconstruction.

“The Rijksmuseum recently made high-resolution scans of Rembrandt’s ‘Night Watch,’ as part of a multimillion-dollar, multiyear restoration project, initiated in 2019. Those scans provided Erdmann with precise information about the details and colors in Rembrandt’s original, which the algorithms used to recreate the missing sections using Lundens’s copy as a guide. The images were then printed on canvas, attached to metal plates for stability and varnished to look like a painting.” More at the Times, here.

The Guardian also covered the story, quoting the Dibbits as saying, “With the addition especially on the left and the bottom, an empty space is created in the painting where they march towards. When the painting was cut [the lieutenants] were in the centre, but Rembrandt intended them to be off-centre marching towards that empty space, and that is the genius that Rembrandt understands: you create movement, a dynamic of the troops marching towards the left of the painting. …

“I am always hoping that somebody will call up one day to say that they have the missing pieces. I can understand that the bottom part and top might not be saved but on the left hand you have three figures, so it is surprising that they didn’t surface because at the time in 1715 Rembrandt was already much appreciated and an expensive artist.”

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Photo from FBI site: An empty frame in the Dutch Room of the Gardner Museum, where Rembrandt’s The Storm on the Sea of Galilee and A Lady and Gentleman in Black once hung.

The agent overseeing the FBI investigation into the 1990 Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum heist spoke at my workplace today (a real perk of my job).

I learned a lot. Did you know, for example, that because Mrs. Gardner’s will specified that no art was to be moved, sold, or replaced, the paintings had no insurance? They were not be replaced. The agent said that the usual scenario is that stolen art is held for ransom from the insurance company. The thieves probably didn’t dream that there was no insurance on Rembrandts and Vermeers.

Our speaker was quite entertaining (for example, showing a slide from the Simpsons cartoon in which Vermeer’s The Concert is found in Montgomery Burns’s mansion ). He answered many questions and punted others as the investigation is ongoing.

As you may have seen recently, the FBI announced that they knew who had stolen the art and at least two of the places it had been seen. They have not announced the names of the thieves but may do so once they work through all the leads the latest announcement has brought. The statute of limitations ran out on the theft after five years (Mass. Senator Ted Kennedy subsequently pushed through a federal law extending the limit to 20 years), but possession of stolen art is a crime not subject to time limits.

I learned that the museum had good security. As most locals know, the guards let the thieves in believing they were cops. When you have a Trojan Horse inside, security doesn’t help, the agent said. Nowadays guards in different museums call each other every 20 minutes just to check.

Extensive research has shown there has never been a museum theft like this, where the thieves stole so much of value and also so much of little value and took a leisurely 81 minutes to do so.

And perhaps there has never been a crime at a major museum where the paintings were not insured.

The agent believes the art will be recovered one day. Read the FBI dedicated site, here.

Photo: Simpsons

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